When Islam Makhachev steps into the Octagon on Sunday to face off against Thiago Moises, he will be doing so with the expectations of his home Republic on his back.
Makhachev has an outstanding record of 19-1 and has produced 7 straight wins in the UFC, firmly placing him in the top 10 of the UFC’s Lightweight division.
Dagestan has a population of only 3.1 million and yet has produced more top level and emerging talent than any other region on the planet.
The small, mountainous Republic in the very south of Russia produced former Lightweight champion and future Hall of Famer Khabib Nurmagomedov, as well as top ranked fighters like Makhachev and #2 Flyweight Askar Askarov.
Today, we look at the Top 5 Unranked Dagestani Fighters in the UFC, fighters you can be sure will be chomping at the bit to rise through the ranks to championship gold.
5. Tagir Ulanbekov
UFC Record: 1-0
Ulanbekov mixes up an intense wrestling and top game with a fearful jab and deceptive power to neutralise his opponents.
His solo fight in the UFC saw him overcome some significant adversity in the first round, as Bruno Silva ate up his lead leg with kicks.
Ulanbekov fought through, and established control in the second and third with pressure, grappling and a stiff jab seeing him take home the victory on the scorecards.
His lone loss in MMA came against fellow UFC Flyweight Zhalgas Zhumagulov on the regional Eastern European scene in 2018.
Time will tell if these two rising stars will meet for a rematch in the UFC, but the first priority for Ulanbekov will be getting back inside the Octagon: 4 of the 5 fights Ulanbekov has been booked for in the UFC have fallen through, a fate that also befell the early career of his mentor Khabib.
4. Shamil Gamzatov
Division: Light Heavyweight
UFC Record: 1-0
A hulking Light Heavyweight fighting out of American Top Team, Gamzatov came into MMA with a highly respected Combat Sambo record and a national kickboxing championship.
He started his career with 10 straight finishes and entered the UFC as an undefeated prospect in one of the thinner divisions.
The only thing preventing Gamzatov from appearing higher on this list is inactivity, his victory over Klidson Abreu in his UFC debut came nearly 2 years ago.
Since then he has seen four high profile bouts fall through due to COVID and visa issues, with no timetable for his return to the Octagon.
3. Said Nurmagomedov
UFC Record: 3-1
The first of two fighters on this list that share the most famous surname in Russian MMA, Said Nurmagomedov is not a blood relative of Khabib, although they are from the same city and have crossed paths many times during their careers.
Said Nurmagomedov debuted with the UFC in 2018, taking a controversial split decision over Justin Scoggins at Flyweight, before moving back to his natural home of Bantamweight.
With two first round finishes in his three UFC victories, Said has cemented himself as a dangerous fighter on the feet to trade with on the feet, but has the traditional Dagestani wrestling credentials to cause problems on the mat as well.
Said is scheduled to face 14-0 Welsh prospect Jack Shore at an upcoming event in September.
2. Timur Valiev
UFC Record: 2-0 (1 NC)
Last month, Timur Valiev battled against Raoni Barcelos (16-1 MMA / 5-0 UFC) and somehow managed to survive an absolutely brutal second round beat down to come back and take the decision victory.
Perhaps inspired by his training partner Frankie Edgar, Valiev was able to rally back from multiple knockdowns to hand Barcelos his first UFC defeat and first defeat in over 7 years.
Timur cut his teeth on the Eastern European scene before running up an 8-1 streak in WSOF / PFL. Training with coach Mark Henry and an all-star team of Justin Gaethje, Edson Barboza and Claudia Gadelha has ensured that Valiev has a well-rounded and dangerous skill set.
1. Umar Nurmagomedov
UFC Record: 1-0
Our second Nurmagomedov on the list and this time, we have an actual relative of The Eagle.
A cousin of Khabib, Umar is looking to follow in his footsteps, joining the UFC with an impressive undefeated record at a young age with his prime in front of him.
Umar Nurmagomedov has a similar approach to grappling as Khabib, with suffocating top control, ground and pound and a high-level submission game that favours the Rear Naked Choke.
He is also a deceptively effective striker, utilising kicks and combinations to allow him to put the pressure on his opponents, ending with the takedown.
Umar only made his debut this year after multiple debut fights fell through in 2020.
Recovering from ligament surgery at the moment, there is hope we will see Umar back in the cage before the end of the year.
And there we have it, the top 5 prospects out Dagestan in the UFC for the time being- a list that is no doubt only going to grow and change over time as more Dagestan nationals make their way into the UFC.
Join us on the weekend as the Run It Back Boys watch Islam Makhachev attempt to continue his quest towards UFC gold.
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